A giant mural.

They say it comes in threes.

Ronnie Virgets. Chef Leah Chase. And, now Mac Rabennack.

You might know him as Dr. John. The Night Tripper.

The good doctor passed today. His family said that he had a heart attack around day break. He’d been sick for a long time. I’m not sure with what. Doesn’t matter now. I know that he lost a lot of weight. That’s a hard thing to do in New Orleans. About 18 months ago he cancelled two shows at Tipitinas. That was the last of his scheduled performances. He spent that time at home, but on the Northshore.

Needless to say, New Orleans is reeling. We are sad. So sad. We haven’t even buried Ms. Leah yet. Her viewing is planned for Saturday, with the funeral on Monday. We are all invited to attend. We will.

Ronnie Virgets was a beloved author. His writing is the stuff of legends. I arrived on the scene a little too late to know it well. And, he wasn’t that well known out of the city. That’s too bad, because what little of his work that I did read caught the heart, soul and spirit of the place I call home.

But, Mac.

Oh man, oh man. He’s beloved everywhere. He started making his own albums in the late 60s. He was a session player until then. He had a rough start in New Orleans, doing things that would make tough guy rappers run home crying to their mamas. He’s been sober for longer than I have. Things change. We change.

How well known?

When you have a Beatle tweeting about his passing, you know how much he mattered to the music world. He played with just about all of music royalty, without ever adopting those trappings himself. Not only did he produce his own work, but he was an enthusiastic collaborator on other musicians projects.

Yes. I knew him. You’d see him in grocery stores or running errands. He was old school and gracious when he met a fan in the usual places. I photographed him once, formerly, at his home. I was paid for a half day. The shoot ran well over that. There weren’t any problems. We were telling stories and laughing so hard that tears were rolling from our eyes. Like they are as I write. I wish I was laughing now.

I wish that I could show you a picture from that take. Sometimes, a client will ask for an embargo until they have gotten their best use of an assigned set of pictures. I’ll call them tomorrow and ask if I can post one here. There shouldn’t be a problem.

For now, here’s his mural, painted in Central City. I almost like this better than the environmental portraits that I made at his home.  I made this picture on the way to some place else. A second line.

What can I say?

Desitively Bonaroo. The best of the breed. That he was.

Rest in Heaven, Mac. You meant a lot to us.

 

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Working the street.

Busking.

A hard way to make a living. These days, in the music industry, distribution is king. Without that, you struggle with tours and merchandise sales. If you are working the street, you have none of that.

You have the music. You have a tip jar. And, maybe a few cheaply recorded CDs for sale.

Cheaply is an understatement. Just like digital photography, and auto photographers, everybody with a computer thinks that they can record and master music. Sure, there’s a few folks with passion and drive. For the most part, music recorded, mixed and mastered on a computer sounds like it. You really have to like the songs to listen to that poorly recorded sound.

Take a look at her. She’s got her violin. Her tip jar — well — wagon, and she’s waving a CD around. I admire her. That’s hard work.  It was cold that night. She’s wearing a glove on one hand. Yet, she’s smiling and chatting up anybody who’ll listen.

That’s what it takes.

Let’s bounce. Back to photography. You can have all the best gear. You can have all the learned technical skills. You can even make a good picture or two. Without that energy, passion and desire, you ain’t gonna make it.

Like a good musician, a photographer must woodshed. That means taking pictures when you aren’t traveling. When you aren’t getting paid. When you don’t feel like it. That’s how you get good. You work in all kinds of weather. You walk. You look. You make pictures. You work on them at home. You even keep the real losers so that you can learn from your mistakes.

Then, when you are traveling on your own. Or, when you have a paid assignment. The pictures come easily. They find you. You are ready. You’ve practiced. That’s one of the things “ten tips that will make you a great photographer,” never tell you. Work. Work. Work.

The picture. One of those French Quarter nights. Wandering around. Practicing. Looking for pictures. Not caring about showing them to anybody. Or, about money. Just working for the joy of it. Knowing me, I used a 16mm lens, set at f 4.0 and the shutter speed was maybe 1/30th of a second. Most is sharp, except for the CD she is waving around. That’s okay. Her face is sharp. That’s another thing. A picture like this one needs sharpness somewhere. It’s not like those whirly-burly things I photograph sometimes when everything is moving. That’s a whole other skill.

Questions? Please ask.


Music everywhere.

Music.

I said it before. I’ll say it again.

New Orleans is a musical place. It’s often likely that you can hear music as you are passing by a street corner, as I was when I made this picture, that is equal to the sounds you hear in many clubs.

Sometimes, the guys on the street are warming up for their club appearance. Sometimes, they don’t have a gig, but they just feel like playing. They want a little audience and whatever you toss in their tip cup might pay for a meal or a couple of beers. Doesn’t matter to them. They are going to work eventually.

On the other hand, some of the street musicians really are paying their bills by playing on the street. Many of them are quite good. They could play on paying gigs, but they make a lot of money on the streets. One makes enough money to buy a house and car. You know, the markers of a successful life. Or, not.

Anyway.

As you know, I haven’t been in the mood to work much.  Part of it is caused by my health issues. Part of it is just kind of being bored with what and where I work. But, I’ve got a couple of ideas now. Let’s see what I make of them.

One more thing. I owe a couple of you some well thought out replies. I’m a little upside down in time, but I promise I’ll get to them.


The survivor.

New Orleans stories.

Some I have to dredge up from deep in my memory. Others not so much. This is one of the others.

I was walking down the street in Treme. I was headed to a second line. I didn’t know there was a second line that started earlier. A jazz funeral. As I passed by, I saw this man sitting on a box in front of what I assumed was his home. A couple of friends were standing with him and talking.

Look at this man. How could I not ask if I could make his picture? He said yes and I did my thing. Afterward, I asked if he was headed to the second line that I came to photograph. He shook his head and said no.

One of his friends told me something that sticks with me to this day. He said that this man had just finished playing in a second line. A jazz funeral. I asked, “who was it for?” His friend replied, “his brother.”

Looking at the picture now, I can see the pain in his eyes. But, it never occurred to me when I was photographing him, just as it never occurred to him to shake his head no, and say something like, “not today.”

It’s good portrait. It’s nothing earth-shaking, but it matters to me.


On the way.

Yes. A New Orleans thing.

Where else do you see a musician walking on city streets carrying his instrument? A drum and a cymbal. This is about as New Orleans as it comes. It happens all over the city. This picture could only get better if he was carrying a horn. A trumpet or a trombone.

This picture was made on both of our ways to someplace else during the Super Sunday events.

There is one more New Orleans thing to this picture. I would never make fun of anybody. But, it speaks to the city as being one of the most unhealthy cities in the country. We drink too much. (I don’t drink.) We eat too much. We eat too much of the wrong things.

For instance, for Catholics, it is the Lenten Season. A lot of fish is eaten everywhere in the city. It’s not broiled, or poached or boiled. (For crawfish.)

Oh no.

It is deep-fried. Along with everything else on the plate. A typical meal might include deep-fried shrimp, deep-fried catfish, french fries and hush puppies. You could eat that every day of Lent. Forty days, forty pounds.

I’m not a deep-fried eater. Nobody in this house is. The most we usually eat is fried chicken. We may eat that every six months or so. Sure it is good, but we’d like to live a little healthier lives.

The picture. When I say on our ways to some place else, I mean on Super Sunday. Often locals take side streets when we can, rather than fight the crowds. I saw him coming. I stopped and started following him with my camera. You can see the progression in my RAW files. As he got closer I smiled and said, “Carrying musical instruments in the street is sort of a New Orleans thing.” He laughed. We talked for a minute and that was that. F 5.6 and be there.


Tuba player waiting.

The first one. The first Uptown Mardi Gras parade.

Normally on the first night shoot during Mardi Gras, I’m trying to knock off the rust. Not this time. I had an almost perfect shoot. Not only that, but getting there and parking was easy. I parked as close to the parade route as I could. I returned home easily. All of this matters.

The pictures. Let’s put it this way. I could see. I could see as the pictures revealed themselves to me. I suppose that put me in a good mood and place. It seemed like everybody I photographed was happy and having fun. Or, it may have been me.

That shows in the work.

You know me. I like to work at the start of a parade so I can make more than just the usual, “float rolls down the street” picture. I made a lot of good pictures. You’ll see them eventually. For today, you are seeing only one. I’m a bit late and should be on my way to some day parades. Their time has been moved up since we are expecting pretty violent storms.

Anyway the lead tuba player was looking over my head into the crowd for somebody or something. I managed to make the picture in poor light. But, not as poor as this picture indicates. WordPress got me again. Their compression software about killed the image quality. When I look at it on my monitor via OnOne, the image looks great. Not so much here.

Oh well. It’ll get better in the new building.


It’s all in the eyes.

The street.

A place that I enjoy working. I like to make pictures that are a slice of time. Photographs that are a glance. On the street.

Pictures that are an image of an idea.

Pictures that take you there.

Pictures that let you feel.

Pictures from the inside.

Pictures that are from my insides. From my eyes. From my brain. From my soul. From my heart.

That’s the deal. My deal.

Sometimes it works. Often, it doesn’t. It worked a lot this past Sunday. You’ll see over the next few days.

The picture. I got stuck in the middle of the band. That happens when you work closely. Those out of focus areas in front of the tuba player are other band members. I was working on the inside. Just that close. The tuba player’s reflective sunglasses are what caught my eye. Even though we were in constant motion, I managed to make three good frames of him. Photographer’s luck. And, my ability to walk sideways and forward at the same time. The development and post production was easy after that.

That’s it for a Monday morning.


A giant mural.

I read about this mural. One of the three local newspapers published a short story about it. I knew that it was located in Central City. I wasn’t sure where.

Looking for it by driving around wouldn’t work. Central City is a big place. So I waited. I was relentless.

I was on my way to a second line that started about three blocks away from this house. I didn’t know that at the time. I was looking for a place to park. There it was. I parked. I photographed it. Too bad that little black car was in front of the mural. No matter. I made it part of the picture. That’s the seeing part.

I photographed it. I photographed the second line. I photographed a few other things on my way. That’s where my beer drinking Santa was found. That’s also the seeing part.

When a young photographer seeks my advice I usually tell him or her not to edit in the field. Usually that means don’t delete images on your SD card. It also means not to be so focused on the event at hand that you miss something along the way.

I say that your head should be swiveling around, looking and seeing subjects on the way to your destination.

There is another reason for looking as I do. It’s important. It’s for your own safety. Carrying a bunch of expensive camera gear might be an invitation to a mugging. If you see a bad guy coming you can take evasive action. That might mean something as simple as crossing the street so you can be seen. You might head towards a group of people. You might have to take more drastic action in order to defend yourself.

That’s pretty much about life, itself. If you see an event coming — good or bad — you can do something about it. Or not. That’s up to you.

The picture. You know how I found it. Mostly by luck. Photographers luck. It was up to me to make the picture or walk on by. I made a few horizontal frames because that works best in the web world. I made a few verticals. That’s when I decided the picture was more than the mural. The little black car mattered. The sky mattered. I made all of that so, in post production.

Happy day.

Oh yeah. You might be wondering who was honored by painting that huge mural. That is New Orleans’ very own, Doctor John. That’s important for me. His music brought me to thinking about New Orleans. Apparently, I was in the right place at the right time.

 


Trumpeting on the second line.

I came out. To the streets. Of the place.

I thought that I’d photograph the Dumaine Street Gang second line. It was mostly fun. I worked it in slightly  different way. I set out to photograph little slices of it. Trying to capture the entire sense of the second line is almost impossible in Treme’s tight streets. Next time, I’m not going to stand where we all stand, at the coming out place. It’s too hard to get ahead of a second line once the first line passes by. Especially in those tight streets. And, with my slow speed. These days.

A word about this trumpet player. I don’t know him. But, whew. Mostly what I hear on the route is sort of a chaotic blaring of music. It heard that. But, this guy… he was wrapping wonderful notes all around the inside of the song. And, he kept doing it as he and I walked.

The picture. Sometimes I start to wonder if I can produce a straight, documentary photograph. I think I proved that to myself yesterday. That gave me the framework to mess around after I made the original image. I’m not sure I could tinker with this particular picture, but there are some that would be pretty good candidates for playing, maybe producing my kind of art. Also, it felt really great using a real camera. Smartphones are fine, but there is a certain join joy in holding and working with a camera. Especially since I understand it way more than I do my current phone.

I did something good for me today. Normally I read the news in the morning. Today, I didn’t. I read sports, arts and a wonderful column about 41 by The New York Time’s Maureen Dowd who was The White House reporter during his administration. I barely even looked at social media. The places I look at have become too infected with politics, which has become like watching a sporting event. Everybody counting balls and strikes, or touchdowns and field goals.

Sheesh.

Give it a rest.